Romans 5: 1-8
April 28, 2013
A minister friend of mine told me a story he used to share with his church's confirmation class. A man was hiking in the mountains; and as he negotiated the precipice of a steep mountain peak, he slipped and fell off the cliff. Thankfully, though, he managed to grab a tree limb on the way down to stop his fall – at least for the moment.
Now this man had never really believed in God all that much, but as he hung there precariously with his life literally hanging in the balance, he figured it sure wouldn’t hurt to give it a shot. So he looked up to the heavens and called out, "Is there anyone up there?"
To both his surprise and relief, he got an answer: "Yes, I'm here,” the voice said. “I am the Lord. Do you believe in me?" Well, no time like the present! the man thought. "Yes, yes, Lord; I believe. I really, really believe. But I gotta tell you, Lord, I don’t know that I can hang on much longer."
"That's all right,” replied the voice. “If you really believe in me, you have nothing to worry about. Just let go of the branch and I’ll take care of everything."
The man thought about this for a moment; then he looked back up at the sky and said, “Umm, is there anyone else up there?”
Faith can be a lot like that story, don’t you think? Faith can feel like hanging over a cliff, holding onto a branch for dear life. Faith is about taking risks, about letting go of control and handing our very lives over to God. No time like the present. On this wonderful day, six of our young people have made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ and have been confirmed as members of this church and of the church universal. They’ve done this with the help of an adult mentor, who now is more of an adult friend, really. Because as these adults will tell you, and every other adult mentor from the past ten years, the learning and growing is mutual. Together, youth and adult have journeyed over the past four months and have shared in a wonderful experience. As a congregational family, you should be extremely proud of these young people.
Which brings me to my little dilemma. And the truth is, it’s the same dilemma I face every year on Confirmation Sunday – that there's really nothing else for me to say. Because honestly, you have been the sermon for the past four months. I mean, to listen to your faith statements in last week’s session meeting; to witness you kneeling this morning and being confirmed – well, there just doesn’t seem to be anything I could ever add to that.
So I made an executive decision this past week; that I would not bother preparing a sermon. There’s no point, really. I figure I'd let it slide and no one would notice – after all, this is your Sunday, right? I'd just skip a week. I didn’t think you’d mind……
(phone rings…..look embarassed, ignore……phone rings again……)
Gosh, I’m sorry, folks – I usually leave this in my office….. (looks at phone) Oh….wait, what….. oh. I didn’t know I had God in my Contacts. I probably should take this. Do you mind?
[(off to side). Umm, God? Yes, this is me. How did you get my number…… right, dumb question…….. Yes, I decided not to prepare a sermon because they are the sermon……..No, I didn’t suffer from a case of writer’s block, I was just trying to be “cutting edge,” you know…….Yes, I agree, there is a fine line between cutting edge and stupidity. Okay, well, then what would you suggest………Have I ever heard of “DesperatePreacher.com? Yes, I have, actually, but I’ve never felt desperate…….Yes, I see them all looking at me. I get your point…….Okay…….you’re going to take care of it…..okay……um, okay. Well thanks, God, I owe you one. No, I won’t do this again. Okay, bye. Or, Amen!]
Okay, well, apparently we will have a sermon today, although I’m not quite sure how…. (text sound) Oh. Well, here it is. Wow. Long text! I think you guys ought to come sit up here with me. Let’s check this out:
Dear Samuel, Kelsey, Maggie, Alex, Megan and Philip:
I don’t usually make a habit of giving ministers their sermons without some work on their part. But this yahoo left me with no choice. Although, in his defense, I can see where he’s coming from. I mean, if I wasn’t all-knowing and all-powerful, I’d probably struggle with what to say to a group of young people as fine as you, too.
You’ve been part of a great journey these past four months, what your church calls “confirmation.” There have been three of us involved: you, your mentor, and me. Last week you met with your session and shared your statements of faith. Today you’ve answered some questions that Presbyterians require of you, and you are now a member of my church. Which, for the record, is pretty awesome.
But if you think your journey is finish, if you think this day marks the conclusion of your “faith travels,” think again! In fact, the REAL journey is only beginning. Seriously. It starts the minute you walk out the doors of my house here, and into the great big wide world. A new journey awaits you, and this one will last the rest of your life.
It's a journey you and I will take together – not that we haven't been hanging out already, mind you. This next one is just.....well, it's different. It's a little more “involved. I'm not just some story you read about in Bible school, or some creed you memorize. I'm someone who walks with you, before you, behind you, beside you. This is the way it's going to be – you and me, forever.
Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s always going to be an easy journey. But most journeys aren’t, are they? There will be a few bumps in the road, no doubt. There will be a few times when you’ll struggle a bit. But never ever forget this: I’ll always be with you. That’s a promise. As will your church. You can count on them, trust me. You can count on them to be there for you, even if “being there” is nothing more than being a familiar, comfortable place when everything else in your life is out of control. When everything else changes, know that I don’t. I love you, and I always will.
If Steve is still reading this to you – which he better be – then I’d like to take a moment if I could and thank you for believing in me. I really mean that. There are a whole mess of people out there who don’t – and I have to confess, when I look at the world and the sorry state it’s in, I might be a little jaded about God stuff too. But trust me, there’s nothing more frustrating than giving your life for people – literally – and having folks not seem to care. You know that guy or girls in your math class that you think is so awesome, but you’re pretty sure they don’t know you even exist? That’s what it’s like for me sometimes, without the math.
And as you believe in me, know that those beliefs will change and grow over the years. Like Steve and Shasta have told you, those awesome Statements of Faith you wrote are hopefully Word documents on your computer – which means you can edit and grow them over the years as you grow in me. In fact, here’s an idea: mark April 28th on your calendar, and like a birthday, go back every year on this day and look at your Statement of Faith. See what things still ring true and what need updating, and then make those updates. Never stop growing in me.
So thanks for believing in me. But thanks for doing something else also, that is as equally important as believing – and that is following. Oh man, I can’t tell you how important following me is! This may sound crazy, but being a Christian is not just about beleving in something. It’s about following too. You remember when my boy Jesus was there and was going around finding people to be his disciples? You remember what he said to them when he first met them? It wasn’t, “Believe in me,” was it? No, it was “Follow me.” That’s the very first thing he said to them! And that’s what I want you to do, too - Follow me! Go where I go. Do what my Jesus did.
Because you know what? Here's the thing: I've got millions of people all over the planet who believe in me – and that's great, that’s wonderful. But I don't have as many followers – people who are willing to put their faith into action, you know? I guess they're comfortable with just keeping it in their heads and their hearts, like they’re part of some social club. Like it’s some kind of membership card they can whip out when they need to. They’re apparently okay with that. The thing is, I need you to know that I'm not okay with that. And I don't want you to be okay with it, either.
I want you to live your life as a follower of my boy Jesus. I want you to look for places in this world that need me, and then help me get there. It can be helping a homeless man on the street getting a place to stay for the night. It can be that kid who always sits by himself in the lunchroom and joining him one day so he doesn’t eat his lunch alone. It can be the hug you give someone when they’re going through a tough time. It can be that card you make for a homebound church member. Trust me, once you get started, you’ll never stop discovering new ways to follow me.
Now this doesn’t mean, by the way, that don’t need to work on understanding your faith any more. Sorry, but you're not off the hook! Keep reading your Bible. Keep going to Beacons and Bible studies. Put yourself smack-dab in the middle of a community of Christians – and not so you’ll be just like them (which drives me nuts, by the way – I don’t know where some Christians get the idea that I want everyone to be exactly alike and that differences and diversity are somehow bad things. That’s crazy). No, stay invested in this community of faith so that your common bond in me and in others will help you find your own unique calling. Be involved in First Presbyterian – and not just because it's a pretty neat place, but because, from the looks of it, they like you all. They like you a lot.
And I guess the main thing I want to ask you on this special day is to promise that you'll stick with me no matter what life throws at you. Believe me, I've seen it all. I know how hard life can get. And that’s why I promise to never, ever, ever, ever leave you. I’ll be right there during the great times and the bad times. You and me, we’re going to make a great team together.
So congratulations. Congratulations, not only for who you are and what you've already done, but for who you're becoming and what you will do. This church is proud of you. I'm proud of you! The real journey begins now. And I can't wait to get started!
Love eternally, God
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, AMEN.